This is in response to Phillip Clarkes editorial in the June 2008 issue of Railway Digest
A comparison between the Intercity V-Set cars and the Outer Suburban H-Set cars is never going to be a fair one. They are very different trainsets, designed for different uses, and comparing one to the other is largely a futile excercise, as both were designed in different times, for different purposes. Really, the only thing the two trainsets have in common is their destinations.
The Commonwealth Engineering built V-Set cars (introduced in the 1970’s) were the first double deck interurban cars to run for the (then) Public Transport Commission (PTC), and were a huge step forward for commuters, as the new double deck cars could carry significantly more passengers, in air conditioned comfort, and without the hassles involved with being a locomotive hauled train versus electric multiple unit. Built to service the long haul passenger destinations along the electrified sections of the State Rail network (present day being Lithgow, Kiama and Newcastle), they were, and still are a huge success.
The interiors of the V-Set cars best demonstrates their intentions. They have plenty of two plus two reversible seating down the car, with toilets located in pairs at the ends of trailer cars. However, all of this space comes at a price – the cars are far longer than any other cars in service on the Cityrail network, which means that a full eight car train is unable to use the underground platforms at Town Hall, Wynyard, as well as those on the Eastern Suburbs Line. This is an important downside, as a number of peak hour trains from South Coast and Central Coast lines use the underground platforms, rather than terminating at Sydney Terminal.
As the cars were built from the 1970’s, it is important to note that they are not especially easy for disabled passengers to use. Unlike all other electric and diesel stock on the Cityrail network, the doors on V-Set cars must be opened manually by the passengers when unlocked by the guard. While the V-Set cars have many toilets, they are little bigger than a closet, and it would be impossible to make them wheelchair friendly. Doors between the vestibules and the passenger saloons are also very narrow, and next to impossible to fit a wheelchair through.
The V-Sets excel at what they were built for, which is for interurban travel to destinations a few hours away from Sydney, such as Newcastle, Fassifern (Lake Macquarie) Katoomba, Lithgow, and other destinations a similar distance away. They were built during a time when people would take their family for a weekend or holiday away from the city by train, rather than by family car.
The OSCARs, or Outer Suburban Cars are very different from their V-Set “counterparts”. They are not designed for long haul passenger travel, rather, they are designed to make long distance peak hour commutes more pleasant.
Built by United Goninans from 2006, the OSCARs are essentially a suburban commuter train, with a number of additions to make longer commutes more pleasant for passengers, as well as bringing areas such as Gosford, Kiama and Wyong a wheelchair accessible railway service to the Sydney Metropolitan Area. Advantages of the OSCAR train over a normal suburban train are many. Firstly, like the Millennium train before them, they feature a number of hidden CCTV cameras around the train, which can be viewed at any time by the trains crew (who can them quickly and discreetly radio for police to meet the train at a station if they notice any disruptions on board). This makes the train far safer for passengers and crew alike.
Importantly, the OSCAR trains are also designed with Wheelchair passengers in mind. Where the two intermediate motor cars meet is where the disabled toilet is located, which is adjacent to a section of flip-up seating so that wheelchairs are not parked in the middle of the vestibule. To make the toilet wheelchair accessible takes up a lot of room. For there to be more than one toilet on the train would mean sacrificing a lot of passenger space. This would be a serious issue, as trains from Wollongong and Gosford can get especially crowded as they go straight into the city underground, saving passengers changing at Central to get to busy inner city stations such as Town Hall, Wynyard and Martin Place.
Another key feature of the OSCAR train is it’s length. By designing a train the same length as the rest of the suburban cars in service, this enables an eight car train to fit wholly on the underground platforms at Wynyard, Town Hall, Central, Redfern, Martin Place, Kings Cross, Edgecliff and Bondi Junction. Prior to the introduction of the OSCAR’s, these services (originating from Springwood, Wyong, Gosford, Port Kembla, Dapto or Kiama) would use the fleet of Outer Suburban Tangaras (G-Sets). Due to their not being enough G-Set Tangaras to operate all of these services, a number would be forced to run with standard suburban (T-Set) Tangaras with no toilets, and no reversible seating at all! With the introduction of 8-Car OSCAR services on the South Coast and Central Coast Lines, this has freed up the G-Sets to fill the remaining, non-OSCAR services as 8-car trains.
With the price of petrol rising higher each week, more and more people are turning to public transport as an option for their daily commute. This is especially highlighted on the trains from Gosford/Wollongong, as suddenly a lot more people are trying to cram onto a train which was designed for fewer people to travel in comfort – not as a mass commuter train. Again, this is an excellent example of the OSCAR living up to it’s design principle. With it’s three plus two seating on each deck of the train, more people are able to sit down on their train trip to work, which can be as long as two hours each way. With more people seated, this means less people standing in the vestibule areas of the train, which again is an increase in passenger comfort. Those that do have to stand will find it far easier on an OSCAR, with plenty of room in the vestibule of the train, and plenty of hand holds. Those who have tried to stand on a V-Set interurban will know that there is little, if anything to hold on, and no room to stand that doesn’t block people walking down the isles to get off the train!
The introduction of the OSCAR EMU has allowed the building up of a number of suburban services from six to eight cars (by releasing T-Set Tangaras from interurban runs, this has allowed a number of R-Sets to be made into S-Sets), as well as the building up of a number of V-Set interurban runs from four to six, and six to eight cars. Considering the petrol price crush is affecting commuters in western, northern and southern Sydney as well as those coming from Newcastle/Katoomba, this is most beneficial to them as well as those directly advantaged by the OSCAR trains.
The seating in OSCAR trains has been called “uncomfortable”, when compared to the V-Set seating. Again, this is an unfair comparison, as the V-Set seating has been designed for train trips of over two hours, when passengers really need the comfort the most. The OSCAR seating should ideally be compared to the seating of a normal suburban train. Most people would prefer to sit on an OSCAR between Wyong and Central as opposed to a T-Set Tangara! Especially when you consider an OSCAR has a toilet, when a T-Set Tangara does not! Another under appreciated aspect of the seating on OSCARs, is that the seats have been designed with vandals in mind – a number of unsavory people over the years have found it very entertaining to rip open or dismantle the seats on the V-Set trains. This negates the comfort factor of the seating, as it is very hard to sit down when there is no seat to sit on! The OSCAR seats, are of a much more robust design, with fabric that is hard to tag or tear, and next to impossible to take the seat apart.
Comparing a V-Set to an OSCAR is comparing an apple to an orange. If an OSCAR was running for a three plus hour trip between Sydney and Newcastle, or between Sydney and Lithgow, as the V-Sets do, there would be more of a basis for comparison. Both trains are designed to get people to and from the city in as much comfort as possible. The V-Set, for the longer runs over many hours, while the OSCAR for the shorter runs from the outer suburbs.
Authors Note: My next goal is to get some decent photos of the interiors of both trainsets to provide further basis for comparison.